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Cell-based and plant-based meat

Cell-based and plant-based meat


There are various distinct categories in this area: Cultured meat, Plant-based meat, and Clean eggs and dairy. Cultured meat, also known as cell-based meat, is grown in bioreactors using techniques derived from cellular agriculture. Plant-based meats are made through unique combinations of plant-derived ingredients and other non-animal products. Protein products are also produced with microbes such as algae, yeast, fungi, and bacteria.

Technologies for making cell and plant-based meat products

Growing meat in the lab involves cell culture and tissue engineering techniques for growing muscle fibers, fat, and blood vessels from stem cells or immortalized cell lines. Synthetic biology and genetic engineering of plants or microbes can be used to produce growth factors and nutrients needed to support growth of these tissues.

Organizations of the industry

The activity of organizations within the space span from clean meat products in several food categories, clean meat processing, technological development, academic research, education, mentorship, and capital investment.

Cultured meat , materials , and products

Cultured meat is meat grown using cellular agriculture. It is also known as clean meat, in vitro meat, and cell-based meat. Companies that use cellular agriculture to produce materials like silk and leather, and companies that produce ingredients for food and food processing like protein flavors, fillers, coloring, etc. Companies that produce blood, nutrients, and growth factors contribute to both cultured meat and pharmaceutical industries.

Cell-based meats offer meat which can be more environmentally sustainable in its growth and can be grown without the use of hormones or antibiotics. These products can also be grown at scale without concern over use of agricultural land or necessary emissions. A lot of cultured meats are grown with cells from the animal whose meat is being grown - cow, chicken, pig, or fish - and, often, includes plant protein added for structure and flavor. These products can also be grown nutrient-rich to increase their nutritional value.

The cells used for cell-based meats and related products can come from a range of sources: biopsies of living animals, pieces of fresh meat, cell banks, and even the roots of feathers. The cell lines can then be based on primary cells or on stem cells. In the case of stem cells, they have the advantage that with different nutrients or genetic modifications they can mature into any cell type.

Cell-based beef

The production of cell-based beef is done in lab and requires a building of a 3D scaffold of the cells. The process is tricky and developing low-cost cell-based beef has proven difficult. Often companies use fetal bovine serum as the initial growth factor, but there are more in testing and production. Beef is also the most popular cell-based product, with the first cell-based hamburger being grown by Dutch pharmacologist Mark Post in 2013, and with the majority of cell-based meat companies either focusing on or offering a beef product.

Cell-based pork

Pork faces a similar difficulty as beef, with the cost of cell-based pork being higher than the traditionally grown alternative, but so far lab-grown pork products have included bacon and pork belly and have provided similar flavor and texture. HigherSteaks developed samples of bacon strips and pork belly in 2020 which presented the first versions of each cultivated without the use of bovine serum.

Cell-based poultry

In the case of cell-based poultry, early examples included chicken nuggets, where the 70% cell-based chicken mixed with mung bean protein isolate for texture and water, oil, salt, pepper, and breading is similar to the chicken nuggets made from traditionally grown chicken. Chicken is considered an easier product to manufacture because avian stem cells have also been used for the production of vaccines and there is an existing knowledge which can be used for the production of cell-based poultry.

Cell-based seafood

Cell-based seafood is developed from cell chains which are used to arrange 3D cell structures resembling animal seafood muscle tissue. In the case of seafood, the cell-based production can reduce concerns such as contaminant issues, zoonotic diseases, antimicrobial resistance, and animal welfare issues that conventional production has. Cell-based seafood companies have produced shrimp, lobster, crab, tuna, Atlantic salmon, and coho salmon with success, while mollusks have been trialed but with less success.

Cell-based Pet Food

Lab-grown pet food offers a lot of the same benefits of lab-grown proteins, in that it can be raised without harmful steroids or harmful ingredients often found in animal food while the nutritional value of the food can be developed for specific breeds of pets. And the animals can eat a more traditional diet that they would eat before domestication. As well, as the use of cultured foods increases, the use of cultured pet food can be more sustainable than traditional pet food.


Bioprinting is an additive manufacturing process similar to 3D printing in that it uses a digital file as a blueprint to print an object by layers, but in bioprinting the materials used for printing are cells and biomaterials to create organ-like structures. These structures allow living cells to multiply and create the musculature necessary for cell-based meats. Bioprinting has potential uses outside of cell-based meats in the medicine and cosmetics industries.

Cell-based leather and other materials

Similar to cell-based meats, leather, pelts, silk, and other materials can be lab-grown. These materials are often manufactured using biofabrication techniques similar to lab grown meats, but can also be developed out of other biomaterials, such as mycelium. At the cellular level, a lot of these materials, especially leather, can be identical to traditional leather, but dependent on the desires of the manufacturer, the materials can be manufactured to express different or new characteristics that may be otherwise difficult to develop with traditional materials.

Blood products

Some products can be derived from cultured blood. The production of blood cells in the lab from stem cell or blood stem cells can form any cell type in the body or blood stem cells which can in turn be used as a starting material to grow and be differentiated into specific cell types. These can then be used to grow various products, including cell-based meats.

Protein ingredients

In cell-based meat there are enabling technologies, such as blood products and bioprinting, which offer raw materials for developing the meat. Part of these enabling technologies include protein ingredients, which are often cell-based, plant-based, insect-based, or other material-based protein products. These products can introduce richer nutritional characteristics compared with lab-grown meats.

Cell-based oils

Similar to other cell-grown animal byproducts, the development of cell-based oils present an alternative to animal and plant-based fats and oils which can be used as ingredients in cell-based meat products, confectionary products, and in the cosmetics industry.

Plant-based meat and proteins

Plant-based meat and proteins refers to products manufactured from plant materials, free from animal materials or byproducts, and designed to mimic meat in every way, including taste, smell, texture, and appearance. Plant-based meats often use one or more alternative protein ingredients, such as soy or black beans. These products often come either as whole muscle meat or restructured meat, with products including burgers, sausages, ground meat, crumbles, nuggets, and faux-seafood such as shrimp and fish.

Plant-based meats are made from a variety of ingredients, including grains, legumes, fibers, starches, flours, and concentrates. Through a process known as extrusion, these ingredients are put through hydration, shearing, and cooking, so the products will mimic meat characteristics. Through the manufacturing process, any unwanted aromas, flavors, or textures are removed from the product. Fermentation is another process used for the production of plant-based meats. Impossible Foods has used this process to cause their burger products to bleed similar to an animal-based burger. Dependent on the ingredients used, some plant-based meats may or may not be vegan. Often this is based on the use of emulsifiers such as eggs to enhance flavor or texture. The products are always vegetarian.

Plant-based meats can also be supplemented and fortified with various nutrients, such as vitamins or minerals, to make them more nutrient-rich than traditional meat products. As well, these plant-based products can be manufactured without the use of antibiotics and hormones present in conventionally grown meats.

Plant-based beef

Plant-based beef is, as it sounds, a beef-like product made from plant products. In many cases the beef products are ground beef and related products as the texture and taste are easier to manufacture than imitating the texture of a cut of animal muscle may be. As well, these products often have included fiber which is not found in meat naturally. These products are largely, based on the inclusion of nutrients such as fiber and the removal of a red meat product from a person's diet, considered healthier than a natural beef product.

Plant-based pork

Pork is the most widely consumed meat in the world. Because of this, manufacturers of plant-based meats are working to develop plant-based pork products. The more popular solution is ground pork products which have been included in fast food breakfast sandwiches, but a company such as Impossible Foods has developed a plant-based sausage product. In the case of Impossible Food's product, they have also used heme, a molecule derived from plants containing iron, which resembles blood and gives a more 'authentic' feel to the product. These pork products are largely designed to comply with kosher and halal rules as well.

Plant-based poultry

Plant-based poultry products have been difficult to manufacture, as developing the meat-like muscle texture of poultry has been more difficult than developing plant-based ground beef. There is also an expectation that consumers expect plant-based chicken products to pull apart like conventional chicken products. However the inclusion of plant-based chicken product on fast-food restaurant menus has grown the demand for plant-based poultry.

Plant-based seafood

Seafood is a harder food type to replicate than beef, poultry, or pork which has slowed the development of plant-based seafood products. Although with the increase in popularity of plant-based meat alternatives, more research and development have been put into plant-based seafood. One difficulty with the production of plant-based seafood is the range of possible products. Seafood encompasses over 200 edible species, some more popular than others. Products which have made it to market include plant-based tuna, salmon, caviar, scallops, squid, crab and shrimp with the most common ingredients in these products including soy, seaweed, yeast, legumes, vegetable oils, and starches. The producers have focused on these fish products as they represent more of the popular fish products and could take pressure off these fisheries.

Besides the benefit to fisheries and the conservation of fish species, plant-based seafood can be consumed by people with seafood allergies, they offer zero-mercury options, the products are made without a fish smell, and they do not contain micro-plastics—which are all concerns when consuming conventionally fished seafood.

Other plant-based meat alternatives

Other plant-based meat alternatives are meat alternatives which can often be substituted for meat in a dish. These alternatives differ from plant-based meats in that they often do not try to imitate meats either in texture or taste. The alternatives can be full food products which simulate meat, such as a beef jerky alternatives. These alternatives include tofu, tempeh, seitan, textured vegetable proteins (often not trying to imitate any meat type), jackfruit, and beans and legumes.

Plant-based dairy and egg alternatives

Plant-based dairy and egg alternatives are products manufactured out of a variety of plant-based oils and plant-based emulsifiers and are intended to imitate animal by products, such as milks, cheeses, butters, and eggs. The products are intended to melt, cook, and bake similar or the same as the animal products they are manufactured to imitate. The most common ingredients in plant-based dairy products include coconut, coconut oil, tree nuts, oats, rice, olive oil, and avocado oil. The more common emulsifiers are lecithin (a soy product), carrageenan (a seaweed product), and potato or tapioca starches. The emulsifiers are crucial for thickness and creaminess.

Plant-based milk

Plant-based milk is made by grinding a nut, seed, or bean and adding the dissolved and disintegrated plant material and extracts into water. In order to stabilize the liquid, some products are homogenized, or thermal treatments are applied. Plant milk can be made from soy, almonds, coconuts, cashew, oats, tigernuts, rice, hemp, peas, macadamia, quinoa, sesame, peanut, pecan, flax, and hazelnuts.

Plant-based butter

A precursor of plant-based first developed in 1869 in France was oleomargarine, eventually shortened to margarine. These products were generally made from coconut oil, soy bean oil, and corn oils. Margarine was not widely adopted until rationing during both world wars created butter shortages. However, more modern plant-based butters are made to simulate butter better than traditional margarines. All plant-based butters provide the fat needed in baking, but not all can mimic the taste of butter. These products are made from plant-based oils, and can have chemical odors when being cooked with.

Other dairy alternatives

Other dairy alternatives include plant-based alternatives to yogurt, sour cream, cheese, creamed cheeses, ice cream, and whipped topping. In the case of yogurts and sour creams, coconut milk products are often used because it tends to come closest to the consistency of animal-milk yogurt. These yogurts are generally close in taste and texture to the animal-milk yogurts; meanwhile, sour creams, using similar products, do not often imitate the taste or consistency of animal-milk sour cream.

For plant-based cheese, there are almost as many cheese types as there are for animal-milk cheese. Plant-based cheese have been made from vegetable proteins, fats and plant-based milks. It can also be made from seeds (such as sesame or sunflower), nuts (such as cashew, pine nut, peanuts, almond), and soybeans. Other typical ingredients are coconut oil, nutritional yeast, tapioca, rice, potatoes, and spices.

Plant-based ice cream is often made of any sort of plant-based milk, from almonds to soy to coconut. Just as animal-dairy-based ice cream is loaded with fat, vegan ice creams use plant-based milks that contain substantial amounts of fat. These products are often made from soy, almond, cashew, coconut, or rice milk.

Plant-based eggs

Plant-based eggs are manufactured using vegetable byproducts made to resemble chicken eggs in texture and flavor. The plant-based eggs can be produced with algae or plant-based proteins such as mung bean protein, turmeric yeast, and a leavening agent. Plant-based eggs are similar in certain nutritional factors, such as calories and grams of fat or protein, but chicken eggs have other nutrients such as vitamin D, vitamin B12, choline, and antioxidants which plant-based eggs have yet to add, but could add. Generally, plant-based eggs are made as liquid egg.

Microorganism-based protein

Microorganism-based protein or microbial protein products offer another alternative source of protein besides animal-based or plant-based proteins. Microbial protein in the case of absorbed amino acids provided by ruminally synthesized microbial protein and endogenous protein, microbial protein refers to the constituent proteins of bacteria, protozoa, and fungi. Endogenous protein refers to protein originating in the body, with sources including mucoproteins in saliva, sloughed epithelial cells, and enzyme secretions into the abomasum. These proteins offer a sustainable food supply, especially for producing animal feeds but also for protein-rich food additives with a lower environmental footprint than other plant or animal-based alternatives.

Supporting the production cultured or plant-based products

Many academic research groups, non-profit groups, and business incubators are involved in the development and promotion of cultured meat, plant-based meat, and other animal-free products. Culturing systems and food processing facilities support various stages in manufacturing these new animal-free proteins and products.

Processing cultured meat

The processing of cultured meat includes the methods and procedures for extracting animal cells and, from these cells, processing the necessary cells or ingredients for cell-based meat production.

Cell culturing systems

Cell culturing systems refers to the culture media used to mimic the in-vivo myogenesis environment of animal breeding, for the development of animal-derived and synthetic material. This also can refer to the bioprocessing necessary for commercial-scale production of cell-based meats. Culturing systems is part of the overall emerging field of cellular agriculture. The products derived from culturing systems include cultured meat, milk, egg white, and leather.

Business incubators and accelerators

Part of the support of the development of cell-based and plant-based meat companies includes business incubators and accelerators. These programs will help companies on their growth strategies, branding, financial modeling, data analytics, operations, and fulfillment areas of their business. Specific to the cell-based and plant-based meat segments, business incubators and accelerators can offer product-market fit, distribution improvements, and investment dollars for the development and refinement of the product.

Nonprofits and charitable organizations

These organizations offer support to the industry of cell and plant-based meat industry without perhaps supporting the individual companies developing these products. These organizations can increase awareness of the product categories and work to see the products included in media and in restaurants or other food outlets.

Funding new dietary protein sources

These venture capital firms and venture partners are supporting the growth of the cell based meat and clean meat industry. A lot of the financial and business support offered by venture capital firms are consistent among firms investing in other industries. But, unique to the cell and plant-based meat industry, these firms can offer the necessary investment in marketing and technology necessary for developing the products and ensuring that consumers are aware of the products.

Patents for cell and plat-based meat


Priority date

Engineering vascularized muscle tissue





Methods for large scale generation of stem cells

Stem Cells




Apparatus and Method for Forming Fibers





Cellular Reprogramming for Product Optimization





Methods and Compositions for Synthesizing Improved Silk Fibers







Further Resources


Behind the Hype of 'Lab-Grown' Meat

Ryan F. Mandelbaum

Cellular Agriculture 101



Cellular Agriculture, Clean Meat, Developments, Building a New Industry, and How to Get Involved With New Harvest Research Director Dr. Kate Krueger

22 May 2018

CES 2020: 'Pork made from plants' launched by Impossible Foods

BBC News


January 7, 2020

Clean Meat

Paul Shapiro



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